What I Hope to Teach My Daughters About Desire

A journalist sent me a message last week, expressing interest in my work on Adventures From the Bedrooms of African Women. When it comes to this project, I have been the force behind the scenes, rather than the face out front for many myriad reasons. Those reasons have included the existence of my children, some of whom had not yet been born when Nana Darkoa and I started the blog. I was scolded and shamed for writing and *gasp* encouraging other women to write about sex, pleasure and womanhood. 

“Have you thought about how your kids will feel if they should come across all this stuff you’ve written when they are older?!?” The horror. 

That was all it took for me to take my hand off the wheel and buckle myself into the backseat. Until – as children tend to do – my kids grew up and DID come across some of my written work and asked me when I planned to write more. Through no influence of mine, one of my daughters has declared herself queer/bi-sexual, the other is most likely ace and the third wants to switch bodies with our cat so that she doesn’t have to “do homework and can sleep most of the day”. It didn’t matter what I wrote or where I published it: my children (and yours) were always going to be on their own journeys of self-discovery and hopefully come into the power of self identity. Additionally, no matter how hard external factors try to push or pull us, we all harbor personal desires. 

Society does its best to corral and control how, when, what and most certainly whom we desire. There are well known limits and boxes in which this desire is sanctioned and you certainly don’t need me to recount them all. However I find that even outside of those conservative structures, I find the insistence on hyper liberation ethos just as taxing. The notion that one can just do as they want whenever they please is just as damaging. They are both sides of a one faced coin flipping for power and control, and usually people who proselytize from either philosophy employ shame tactics to sway their audiences. Well, in my experience at least. 

This is why I want to teach my daughters about the urgency of owning their own desires. 

The journalist and I spoke for close to two hours and it was the first time in a while that someone allowed me to speak without interruption my own journey as a sexual being, a mother and a Black/African woman. Usually an interviewer comes into that space with a story they are looking to tell and then imposes those presumptions onto the subject, often demanding (albeit subtly) that they confirm those stereotypes. We talked about lost African languages, the reverberating effects of colonialism, lineage and how all of these are linked to and influence our expression of desire. It was through that interview that I realized that I have never had control over my own wants and longings. How could I then advise or model this for my children? I mulled over this with her.

“When I had my first sexual encounter at 14, it wasn’t because I wanted it. It was because my boyfriend at the time badgered me until I conceded. I then became sexually active but not because it was something I necessarily wanted or was ready for, but because it gave him satisfaction. Years later when I got into church, celibacy was expected of me (because let’s face it, chastity was long out of the window) and shamed into me. I was celibate for many years, even though I was much older, in university, and wanted intimacy with my partner at the time.” 

I realized  that I have never been in control of my “yes” or my “no” to my desire. Either and both have always been in the hands of someone else or been governed by an ideology I had not fully bought into. 

I talk to my kids about consent all the time. I have drilled into them that their “body belongs to them” from the time they were little. They know that if they don’t want to have physical contact with someone – even if it’s a hug to a relative – they don’t have to. I don’t know if I’ve done as good a job as teaching them to identify their desires (whatever those may be and certainly beyond sex) and mastering them. Or more importantly, guiding them towards having a healthy relationship with those desires once recognized. My overall goal as a mother is to give each of my kids the kind of upbringing from which they do not have to heal from in the future.

As my wise friend Bessie says, “It’s never too late.”

What did your parents tell you about desire? Have you always felt ownership of yours, or did you grow up more like me? Holla at me in the DMs or on Twitter!